Reclaiming Childbirth

Through history, birth and delivery was a woman's affair, supported by the family and community midwives. Beginning early in the 20th century and intensifying through the next several decades, U.S. birth culture shifted from a women-centered to a paternalistic, medical model. Birth went from being a natural experience to an operative procedure. Medical institutions made themselves the birth experts and silenced women. As a result, women came to doubt their ability to birth naturally and began to believe that the doctor always knew what was best for them.

One of the worst examples of this approach, practiced mostly from the 1930s through the 1950s, involved the use of "twilight sleep" on women in labor, a state induced by administering a combination of an analgesic (morphine) and an amnesiac (scopolamine). Women were often tied down during birth to prevent them from thrashing about due to the medication. They were so sedated that they could not recall giving birth; this made bonding more difficult for the mother and baby. The medication often caused neurological depression for the babies, who were sometimes kept from their mothers for days after their birth.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2010
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